Lilly Pulitzer and Margaret Thatcher died within a day of each other. Two very influential women indeed. Yet Pulitzer had a very profound fashion effect on me. Lillian Bostwick Phipps Pulitzer Rousseau (known since 1959 as the preppy designer Lilly Pulitzer) died Sunday morning at her Palm Beach residence at the age of 81.
I have so many amazing memories of my childhood. Most notably, my parents still live in the same house I have ever known (for now). I know there are not too many people my age that can claim that. Also, I had a pretty fantastic wardrobe for a little girl from just outside Buffalo, NY. Lastly, my mother liked to photograph us like we were the Kennedys (see above). While I was teased about these pictures when I was a teenager…I am so thankful to have them. As you can see, my mother liked to dress me in Lilly Pulitzer and Florence Eiseman. In fact, she actually dressed my brother and I in matching outfits from both of these lines which was comical since we are 2.5 years apart and look nothing alike. Yet, now we do have some amazing pictures for prosperity. Come to think of it, the pictures where I look the worst are after this period, when I finally revolted and dressed myelf. I digress.
According to People.com, the bright, big-patterned fabrics seen in country clubs from Bar Harbor to Bel Air, were worn by trendsetters like Jackie Kennedy (Pulitzer’s former classmate at Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Conn.) and E.F. Hutton and Post cereal heiress Dina Merrill.
Pulitzer was the daughter of a prominent horse-racing family and former wife of a newspaper heir, but she made her fortune selling her patterned sportswear and trademark shifts in 31 Lilly Pulitzer shops nationwide. In 1957 at 26, she was married to press lord Joseph Pulitzer’s playboy grandson, Peter, and was so miserable that she found herself in a Westchester, N.Y., mental hospital. “The doctor said I should find something to do,” Pulitzer told PEOPLE. So the story goes like this: having to find something to do, the millionaire matron started selling oranges and grapefruits grown in Peter’s Florida groves from the backseat of the family station wagon. A few months later she began selling juice. “Since I spent my days squeezing fruit, I was always covered with juice,” says Lilly. “So I designed myself a cotton shift in colors that matched the fruit.” Her bright shift was fully lined and slit on both sides for comfort, topped with a bow and backed with a zipper. The dress got so many compliments she asked her dressmaker (Pulitzer couldn’t sew) to make 20 for her to sell with her fruit. The rest is history.
I remember having quite a bit of Lilly Pulitzer as a child. I enjoyed looking for the “Lilly” signature hidden within the print and would get excited every time I found one. When I outgrew my clothes and they were packed up and sent to my younger cousin Jennifer, she told everyone her name was Lilly. Why else would she get hand-me-downs with the name on them? Makes total sense. Eventually I outgrew ‘The Preppy Handbook’ and my Lilly, but I never forgot them.
When Lilly Pulitzer came back into trend in the late 90’s I ran right out and bought myself a Lilly Pulitzer mini skirt in Palm Beach pinks and greens covered with martini glasses. The more adult version and incidentally my favorite drink at the time. I loved that skirt and wore it a few years. So when I next pass the Lilly Pulitzer store on Madison Avenue which I do every time I go to work out at Exhale, I will be sure to stop and leave a flower in appreciation. Thanks for the memories.
– Lauren Dimet Waters